Leashes - San Francisco Story

Wednesday, 01 March 2006 16:10 | Written by  Vineet Buch
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[Editor: Vineet Buch shared this story of a leash-less adventure in strong winds on the surfski newsgroup. I felt it worth sharing with a wider community, so here it is...]


 I went out solo from Redwood City Harbor Sunday, 2/25 morning ~9:30am in my Huki S1-A surfski; the forecast called for strong gusty southeast (onshore) winds, but it was calm when I started, and I changed my original plan of staying in the Redwood City sloughs and instead paddled southeast out of the harbor in the open San Francisco Bay to the Dumbarton Bridge.



The shoreline runs roughly northwest-southeast along this part of SF Bay. On my way back, about 3/4 mile short of the harbor mouth and now with an ebbing tide, the wind started gusting from the southwest (i.e., offshore), caught my paddle and flipped me. After two re-entries and re-flips, I faced winds so strong that I couldn't stay downwind of the boat - the wind kept forcing the capsized boat to turn turtle and bang me on the head. I slipped under the boat and got upwind of it, only to have the wind snatch the boat from my grasp as my wet gloved fingers slipped on the gelcoat.


Vineet's Huki S1-A

I had plenty of time to contemplate the folly of not using my ankle leash as I drifted away from shore; my reflections were colored by mounting frustration as I watched my boat, now almost a mile away from me, get blown, unnoticed, just a hundred feet away from a couple of OC-6s. At the point when I realized that I was going to miss the last jutting headland and my only hope was to snag a buoy far out in the Bay, the last couple of OC-1s still out saw me. One of them had me hang on to their boat while the other went in to fetch a motor-boat to recover me and my ski (it was too windy for them to tow me in even if I kicked hard). Luckily both I and my ski were deposited safely back on land with no dents except to my self esteem and no losses but for my visor and water bag, but things could have gone very wrong very easily.


I usually carry a cell phone in a waterproof case with the Coast Guard on speed dial but left it, along with the leash, in my car - after all, I wasn't going to leave protected waters on this paddle, was I?


Never again am I venturing into open water without a leash! The wind today came on very suddenly ... ironically, it was calm again half an hour later.


The piece-de-resistance was watching the Coast Guard Auxiliary washing off their big cruiser back in the harbor; when I said that I could really have done with their assistance today, they nonchalantly responded, "Oh, we're done for the day, it's too rough to be outside now." !!!!


On a calmer day: Mt. Shasta in the background


Lessons learnt (as summarized by experienced local paddler Dave Jensen):


  1. In anything more than a moderate wind, I find it impossible to re-mount a ski from the downwind side. While on the downwind side of the ski, the wind is blowing the ski over the top of the paddler, and his/her legs end up drifting under the ski...with the toes possibly touching the water surface on the upwind side of the ski. It's a very difficult position to initiate a re-mount. Best bet is to swim under the ski and re-mount from the upwind side. Nobody has taught me this...it's just something I've picked up through lots of trial and error.
  2. Leashes...I usually keep my leash (purchased from Huki) on my ski all the time...24/7. When I'm done paddling, I wrap it around the bungies behind the seat and then fasten the paddler end of the leash back to the cables near the pedals. I think this takes less time than taking it off and putting it back on with each paddle. But more importantly, it's impossible for me to forget it.
  3. The ultimate safety item for paddling alone is a waterproof 2-way VHF marine radio or a cell phone in a waterproof back. West Marine has a decent selection of marine radios and waterproof bags. I'm starting to carry a radio with me more and more, as I want to make sure I'll always make it back home to feed the dog.

Be safe!



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